NC senators walk out of budget meeting

by: Paige Hansen Updated:

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RALEIGH, N.C. - Several state Senators left a budget discussion seconds before Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent, Heath Morrison addressed the group on teacher raises Wednesday in Raleigh.
 
Senators rejoined House members an hour later, but the sense of compromise that was evident last week left the committee room Wednesday morning.
 
The House and Senate had agreed to jointly control the budget meeting which was intended to be a time for them to compromise and move forward. 
 
But, Senators objected when the house decided to bring in outside speakers including the superintendent of CMS.
 
"We are controlling our hour," House Senior Budget Chairman Nelson Dollar said.
 
When Dollar told senators that educators from across the state would be speaking about the importance of teacher assistants, Senate Appropriations Co-Chair Harry Brown objected.
 
"Then Mr. Chairman, I think this meeting is adjourned," Sen. Brown, R-Onslow said.
 
Dollar told members the House is not adjourned and proceeded with the meeting. 
 
CMS's Morrison started speaking as Senators walked out because they said it was a meeting where only designated lawmakers or conferees could speak.
 
"The time to act is now," Morrison said.
 
Morrison advocated for teacher assistants -- positions which the Senate proposed cutting to help raise teacher pay by 11 percent.
 
"It sounds to me like teacher assistants is the most important thing to the House but we think teacher pay is the most important," Brown said.
 
The House's plan calls for a smaller, 5 percent raise but keeps teacher assistants in the classroom.
 
Elyse Dashew has two children in CMS schools.
 
"A lot of parents I know, they've had a wake-up call," Dashew said. "They realize how much impact Raleigh has on our kids' lives."
 
Dashew said she has watched good teachers leave CMS because of low teacher pay.
 
She and other parents started a petition and a group called "Charlotte Mecklenburg Public School Friends" to help parents communicate with lawmakers at the state and local level.
 
"We just wanted to let elected officials know that we care about this," Dashew said.
 
She said parents want a common sense solution.
 
In Raleigh, lawmakers seemed anxious to reach a deal.
 
"I think it is time now to make a decision and get the hell out of here," Sen. Jerry Tillman said.
 
In a continued afternoon session, someone put up Christmas decorations in the committee meeting room.
 
At an earlier meeting, lawmakers said a compromise could take a while. 
"We'll sit here. We'll negotiate. I took the Christmas lights out yesterday. If we need to sit here that long, we will," Rep. Bryan Holloway said during the morning meeting.
 
The North Carolina teacher of the year, James E. Ford went to Raleigh Tuesday to meet with lawmakers and the governor.
 
Channel 9 spoke with the Garinger High School teacher Wednesday who said he was optimistic after his meetings Tuesday.
 
But he said he was disappointed to hear about how Wednesday’s budget meeting went.
 
Ford hasn't endorsed a plan, but said North Carolina teachers need raises.
 
"My ultimate goal is to raise teacher pay to the highest point possible. To be frank with you, I understand there are other factors that have to be considered," Ford said.
 
Both sides said they already have made concessions. 
 
Each chamber will now discuss their plans individually then meet again in hopes of a compromise deal.